Winderman: Expect more Heat “injuries” as they rest for playoffs

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In the ego-driven, pride-centric world of the NBA, you’re never going to hear an athlete say, “Man, I’m tired, I’m sitting this one out.”

So, apparently, he instead has a bruised knee.

Yet keep an eye on that left knee of Dwyane Wade, and don’t be surprised if it’s suddenly healed by the time the Heat host the Thunder on Wednesday night.

Oh, some teams will just come out and say it, especially a don’t-give-a-rat’s-butt coach like Gregg Popovich, who simply can list Tim Duncan as “DNP-old.”

But that’s the exception.

So as we continue to work through the Sunday game tape of Heat-Celtics trying to find the moment when Wade bruised that left knee, we also appreciate the Heat’s move to sit Wade on Tuesday night against the 76ers, a team the Heat now have beaten 11 consecutive times during the regular season (as well as 4-1 during the opening round of last season’s playoffs).

For all the barking Doug Collins did during that game about Erik Spoelstra standing on the court — at one point threatening to do the same so the teams could play six on six —  Spoelstra had the courtesy to not just come out and say his team knew it could beat the 76ers without Wade. Because it always does.

Based on the Heat’s absurd April, one that includes 16 games in 26 days, including an illogical run of four home games in five nights later in the month, expect a few more injuries to pop up among the regulars.

And good for them, if not the ticket-buying public.

Oh, Wade’s left knee most assuredly is sore, as is the right one, as is just about everything on a body that continually hurtles into the lane.

But the reality is the Heat close the schedule with consecutive road games, don’t arrive back in South Florida until the early hours of April 27 and could open the playoffs in the afternoon on April 28.

So “bruised left knee”? Fine.

“Dead legs”? Fine as well.

Or an organization with the bigger picture in mind, picking and choosing its spots through a closing minefield? Smart, very smart.

Wade’s knee may yet keep him out Wednesday against the Thunder. But we’re figuring that also would leave Wade with a bruised ego in the wake of the Heat’s recent blowout loss in Oklahoma City, and that’s something that almost assuredly should have him back on the court.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.